The Meaning of
"The High Priestess" Tarot Card
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What is the inverted meaning of
"The High Priestess"?
The Meaning of
"The High Priestess"
The Symbolism of The High Priestess
Some tarot cards have simplistic, easy to interpret symbols, but the High Priestess isn't one of them. Analyzing one of tarot's most iconic images is like opening a treasure chest of arcane references and esoteric symbolism, revealing several centuries of mysticism and lore.
The marriage of Judeo-Christian and pagan elements in this card is purposeful: Tucked into her robe is a copy of the Torah, which consists of the first-five books of the Bible. On her chest is an equilateral Greek cross, which is a reference both to Christ and to harmony in the universe through a perfect balance of spirit and nature.
Analyzing one of tarot's most iconic images is like opening a treasure chest of arcane references and esoteric symbolism, revealing several centuries of mysticism and lore.
On her head is the crown of Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, and at her feet is a crescent moon, a traditional pagan symbol of the subconscious and female spirituality.
On either side of the Priestess, we see the twin pillars of the sacred Temple of Solomon from Biblical history: Jachin and Boaz. The letters on each pillar are written in the color of the other pillar — demonstrating how each pillar reflects the qualities of the opposite one. The pillars themselves are in turn a reflection of the Roman numeral 'II' which marks the top of the card.
Behind the High Priestess, we see a hanging tapestry which is decorated in images of pomegranates. Pomegranates carry two distinct symbolic references:
- In the Bible, pomegranates appear repeatedly as symbols of female fertility and beauty;
- In Greek mythology, pomegranates are a reference to the story of Persephone and are strongly linked to the underworld.
The above double-meaning is intentional and connects the High Priestess to beauty and feminine power, but also illustrates her connection to the shadow world. The High Priestess is a exceedingly complex woman posessed of deep knowledge and mystery.
NOTE: Observant readers may notice that the High Priestess looks oddly similar to the Two of Swords card. Both The High Priestess and her Minor Arcana relative share the same Roman numeral 'II' at the top of their cards. Both women are wearing remarkably similar clothes — although the Priestess seems to wear more adornments. Both women appear to be seated in a similar place. (Look closely on the sides of the hanging pomegranate tapestry here and you will see that the High Priestess also sits with her back to the sea, as does the acolyte in the Two of Swords.) The crescent moon is represented in both places as well, and the crossed arms of the woman in the Minor Arcana card have been replaced by an actual cross here. Many tarot readers believe these woman are one in the same — represented at early and later stages of her life path.
How to Interpret The High Priestess
With all of its complex imagery,The High Priestess may seem like a difficult card to interpret, but its message is easy to understand: Listen to your inner voice.
The appearance of the High Priestess card in a tarot reading points to the importance of intuition.
The appearance of the High Priestess card in a tarot reading points to the importance of intuition. Logic, math and reason may be vitally important things, but when the High Priestess appears, take it as a gentle nudge to follow your heart instead.
Divine knowledge is often something that can't be defined in rational or logical terms. There are times when we just know what the right path is, and that decision needs no explanation.
When the High Priestess enters into a tarot reading, the cards are often telling us to make room for intuition. Our inner-guide can speak loudly and clearly — but we have to give it the freedom be heard.
Listen closely to it, and it will grow louder and clearer. Suppress it, and we lose touch with our true selves.
If the card is referencing a past event, the High Priestess may point to a time when intuition and divine inspiration were important to the outcome. If the card is referencing a future event, it may serve as a gentle reminder for someone to listen to their heart when the right moment comes.
Generally speaking the High Priestess card is neither positive or negative — but it does offer powerful advice. If you're typically someone that thinks with logic and rationality, the card may indicate that a current path is the wrong one — and that intuition should be followed instead.
The High Priestess Inverted
The reversed High Priestess is often a sign that something is blocking an inner voice.
The upright High Priestess is a call to listen to one's heart, and to follow one's intuition. But if the High Priestess comes up inverted in a reading, it's a gentle warning that intuition is being ignored.
... if the High Priestess comes up inverted in a reading, it's a gentle warning that intuition is being ignored.
We all ignore our own intuition from time to time. Sometimes we ignore an inner voice because of pressure from friends, family or work. Other times we allow social customs and stereotypes to rule our decisions. In many other cases, we think with our eyes (or our bank statements), and not with our hearts.
When the inverted High Priestess enters into a tarot reading, take it as a spiritual "tap on the shoulder"; The tarot cards are reminding us to listen up and pay attention to divine guidance which we may be ignoring.
The reversed High Priestess may also be a subtle warning to avoid the influence of a specific person. Perhaps someone is offering guidance which is self-serving or part of someone else's agenda. Putting the advice of others' on mute and listening instead to the light within is sometimes the best path forward.
Lastly, if someone has already spent a lot of time meditating and listening to one's inner voice, then in these specific cases the inverted High Priestess card may be an indication that the time for meditation is ending, and a time of action may be approaching.
Common Symbols Found On the High Priestess Card
Tarot cards often use a symbolic or iconographic language to convey information about how the card should be interpreted. The High Priestess contains at least six well-known, repeating Tarot symbols. Each of these symbols which repeat throughout the deck can add greater layers of meaning to the card.
The symbols which appear on the High Priestess card are:
Water symbolism appears on the High Priestess card:
In Tarot symbolism, water appears in many forms — ranging from small pools, to bubbling rivers and streams, to wide oceans and seas. While each of these types of water may carry a more specific meaning, water in broad strokes represents nourishment, emotion and our intuitive nature. In the Tarot deck, water is more common in the Minor Arcana cards, and is more often (but not only) linked to Cups cards.
Moons symbolism appears on the High Priestess card:
In addition to The Moon card where Moon symbolism is expected, the image of the Moon makes an appearance on several additional cards in the classic Rider Waite Tarot deck. The Moon is a symbol of intuition, psychic energy and powerful emotions. The Moon is also representative of cycles of all kinds, and reminds us of the ever present cycles which make up the Universe.
NOTE: The low placement of the crescent Moon on this card, near the High Priestess' feet, hints at a mastery of the Moon's energies and self-control of dreams and emotions.
Pomegranates symbolism appears on the High Priestess card:
Making an appearance on 2 Major Arcana cards which feature strong, powerful women, the pomegranate is a symbol of feminine energy and fertility. Bursting with succulent seeds, the pomegranate is the ultimate symbol of female fertility and lush, natural female energy.
Pillars symbolism appears on the High Priestess card:
The composition of a centrally positioned, figure, seated between two great pillars is a recurring visual theme in Tarot imagery. While each specific set of the pillars themselves may have a different interpretation, in broad terms the two pillars represent grand philosophical concepts which support the positions or the actions of the figure at the center of the card. Their role and status in the world is supported by great pillars of philosophical thought and belief.
Alchemy symbols symbolism appears on the High Priestess card:
Alchemy symbols in Tarot represent an association with a particular element — or the idea of change and more importantly, transmutation from one physical, emotional or spiritual state to a new one. It's worth considering that in the Major Arcana, all three of the cards concealing subtle alchemy symbols also visually and symbolically reference the idea of two opposite, or different states of being.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables symbolism appears on the High Priestess card:
Although some specific fruits have unique meanings in Tarot (Apples and pomegranates, to name two), vegetables and fruits in a general sense reference material wealth, fertility or plentiful times. Vegetables and fruits are also commonly correlated with warm emotions and positive outcomes.
Read more about the symbolism of "Fruits and Vegetables" in Tarot
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